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Gosho Study

‘The Dragon Gate’

Photo by Ryan Moulton / Unsplash.


Written on November 6, 1279, this letter was addressed to Nanjo Tokimitsu, a key disciple in Suruga Province. Like his late father, Tokimitsu looked up to Nichiren as his mentor and strove in faith under Nikko Shonin’s instruction. When he received this letter, he had already become a young leader among the believers in Suruga Province.

Around this time, propagation efforts throughout Suruga were advancing at a good pace. Alarmed, the deputy chief priest of Ryusen-ji temple in the village of Atsuhara began to persecute Nichiren’s followers. Twenty farmers were arrested on false charges and three of them were beheaded. In the midst of this cruel and unjust persecution, Tokimitsu risked his life to protect his fellow believers.


A waterfall called the Dragon Gate exists in China. Its waters plunge a hundred feet, swifter than an arrow shot by a strong warrior. It is said that a great many carp gather in the basin below, hoping to climb the falls, and that any that succeeds will turn into a dragon. Not a single carp, however, out of a hundred, a thousand, or even ten thousand, can climb the falls, not even after ten or twenty years. Some are swept away by the strong currents, some fall prey to eagles, hawks, kites, and owls, and others are netted, scooped up, or even shot with arrows by fishermen who line both banks of the falls ten cho wide. Such is the difficulty a carp faces in becoming a dragon.” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1002)


Attaining Buddhahood is no easy feat. In this letter, Nichiren uses the ancient Chinese tale of the Dragon Gate waterfall to highlight this point. Related in The Book of the Later Han, the story says that if a carp manages to ascend the Dragon Gate waterfall, it will become a dragon. However, the force of the falls’ currents is so strong that no carp is able to succeed, regardless of how many times they may try. Predators and fishermen also pose a major obstacle.

Through relating this story, the Daishonin teaches that remaining steadfast in faith in order to attain Buddhahood requires us to face and overcome many challenges. Shakyamuni likens the hardship imposed on us by our fundamental ignorance and earthly desires to strong currents or floods.[1] Because it is so difficult to persevere, it is important for us to unite with the community of believers and the mentor who, as Nichiren states later in the letter, “make a great vow” to attain absolute happiness for the sake of oneself and others.

Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department


“My wish is that all my disciples make a great vow. We are very fortunate to be alive after the widespread epidemics that occurred last year and the year before. But now with the impending Mongol invasion it appears that few will survive. In the end, no one can escape death. The sufferings at that time will be exactly like what we are experiencing now. Since death is the same in either case, you should be willing to offer your life for the Lotus Sutra. Think of this offering as a drop of dew rejoining the ocean, or a speck of dust returning to the earth.” (WND-1, 141)


For his disciples who were facing severe persecutions, Nichiren emphasizes that genuine happiness lies in living for the “great vow” of spreading the correct teaching for the happiness of the people, which itself is the great desire of the Buddha. When we align ourselves with this desire, we can bring forth unlimited wisdom and power from within.

When this letter was written, the entire nation faced disaster. Numerous people had died from epidemics and the threat of the Mongols invading Japan loomed. Therefore, Nichiren said, “Since death is the same in either case, you should be willing to offer your life for the Lotus Sutra.” From the perspective of the vast universe, we may seem as insignificant as “a drop of dew” or “a speck of dust.” But when we live for the Buddha’s great vow, our lives fuse with the Buddhahood of the universe, forever remaining in the orbit of that indestructible life condition. Nichiren concludes this letter by referring to the passage from the Lotus Sutra “we and other living beings all together may attain the Buddha way” (WND-1, 1003). He thus stresses the importance of wishing for the happiness of oneself and others. We can contribute to this noble cause and live a life of purpose and fulfillment by encouraging others and sharing Buddhism.

Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department


  1. The Buddha states to the effect that people who give up craving, people whose hearts are free of taints, can be called people who have crossed the strong current or flood of earthly desires. [See The Group of Discourses (Suttanipata), translated by K. R. Norman (Oxford: The Pali Text Society, 1995), vol. 2, p. 122 (No. 1082)]. ↩︎

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